When a player makes the Major Leagues from the minors, life is a gravy train with biscuit wheels. You’ll get, at least, a prorated portion of the $506,000 league minimum salary. All the facilities and equipment are top notch. But most importantly, the pre and post-game food is fantastic. For as opulent as things can be in the Majors, things are just as spartan in the minors. With all of the teams constantly looking for the next frontier of advantages (defensive shifts, biomechanics to improve health, etc.), would a team ever consider improving the quality of life for their minor leaguers?
To answer that, let’s start at the beginning. Every Major League team has four full-season affiliates (AAA, AA, High A, Low A) and at least two short-season affiliates. Setting aside the Rookie Level teams in the Gulf Coast and Arizona League (these are teams run out of the spring training complexes of the Major League teams), each team enters into what is known as a Player Development Contract with their affiliate for either two or four years. Here’s the breakdown on what the Major League team pays for and what the affiliate team pays for:
Major League team pays for:
Player salaries, benefits, and any employment taxes
Salaries, benefits, and taxes for managers, coaches, instructors, and trainers
Travel expenses incurred by players, coaches, and other personnel when they are re-assigned or traded, and when they report to the club and when they go home at the end of the season
All spring training expenses, including travel costs of players, coaches, and other personnel from their home city to the camp, and from the camp to the city of the first minor league regular season game, and hotel and food expenses from the date of reporting until the day before the first regular season game
Medical supplies purchased by the trainer
The Minor League team pays for:
A home playing facility, clubhouse, and their upkeep pursuant to the requirements in MLR 58
Uniforms for all players, manager, and coaches
Practice baseballs used for shagging
Any championship rings
There are other expenses that the two entities split, but it’s not really germane to this discussion. Nowhere in the breakdown above does it specifically mention food, so it is assumed that falls in the Minor League team’s responsibility for their clubhouse and upkeep. Since it is the domain of the minor league team, many are just scraping by on shoestring budgets, the food is notoriously bad.
The spread may include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It could be cold cuts. Maybe if you’re lucky, pasta with red sauce. What it is not is nutritious or filling. Consider also that the players are mostly being paid peanuts. There are definitely bonus babies that signed for millions of dollars, but the vast majority of the players are getting paid squadoosh.
- A player in short-season gets $1,100 per month
- A player in Low A gets $1,300 per month
- A player in High A gets $1,500 per month
- A player in Double A gets $1,700 per month
- A player in Triple A gets $2,150 per month
And that’s only during the five months of minor league baseball’s season. Once you factor in taxes, let’s (generously) assume a player is left with 75% of that monthly salary. That’s not a lot to live on, which is why player’s hoard their $25/day meal money they get on the road.
Players eat a lot of fast food and pizza because it’s cheap and readily available. Because of the remote locations these teams are typically located in, there’s not a lot of access to fresh fruits and vegetables or healthy shopping alternatives. These players, to be brutally honest about it, are assets of the Major League team but these assets are not being properly taken care of to maximize their future value.
But here’s a question for you — do the Major League teams care? If you take a snapshot of each roster (setting aside Triple A, since it’s a holding tank for shuttling players to and from the Majors), each minor league affiliate may have only 2 to 3 players that will ever make the Majors. The rest of the 35 players are roster fillers or guys hoping to catch a lucky break, but the majority of them will not. At times to me, it seems as if the affiliates exist as glorified exhibitions so that the Major League team can evaluate their small handful of true prospects. The rest are like seat-fillers at the Oscars.
If a team wanted to be truly cutting-edge, though, they would find a way to creatively circumvent the Player Development Contract and create a better culinary environment, so as not to garner the ire of the other Major League teams. There has to be some sort of one-time stipend that could be sent to the affiliate and magically used to provide better nutritionally-valued food. Every town, no matter how small, has a local caterer that would jump at the chance to provide food 70 times a year for 35 people. A menu could be provided for $15/person that would cover pre and post-game dinner and snacks.
$15/person at 35 people for 70 games = $36,750 per year
For four full-season affiliates plus one additional equivalent for two short-season teams, that’s $183,750. A significant amount to you and I, but not for a Major League team looking to gain a potential advantage. For roughly the cost of 1/3 of a season for a rookie’s salary, six affiliates could be well-fed.
Here’s the crazy part — the Pirates could already be testing this theory out without worrying about upsetting the apple cart of a Player Development Contract. The Pirates outright own their High A affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders. They could be using this clubhouse as a testing ground for better dietary habits on their players and could allocate whatever monies they wanted for this endeavor.
Teams don’t have to do this because minor leaguers have been treated like dirt for a long time. It’s almost as if teams view them struggling as part of their mental development. But I have to think that a low-revenue team would want to try an exploit every competitive advantage it could.